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Kauaʻi County hands back land, facility for keiki drug treatment center

Courtesy County of Kauaʻi

The site of an on-island, in-patient drug treatment center for children on Kauaʻi has long been a source of controversy.

The county lost its on-site Serenity House in 1992 when Hurricane ʻIniki passed through, and since then, keiki have had to travel to other islands or the mainland for this kind of substance abuse help.

For the next two decades, the County of Kauaʻi and the community worked in partnership trying to get its own Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center, only to face trouble in securing land and funding, a suitable operator and the pandemic.

Grove Farm Company deeded five acres to the county for the facility five years ago, and now, facing mounting litigation, the county has opted to give the land and new facility to the private company for operation.

“I do think that the best path forward is to let a private sector entity without all of the laws that we are required to operate within, take the center over, because our No. 1 priority is to make sure that kids get the treatment that they need right here at home,” Mayor Derek Kawakami said Wednesday.

He said government procurement processes stood in the way of the facility opening, and pointed to a 2014 feasibility study that said it’d be difficult for the county to manage the property.

The county finished building the facility in 2019 on the deeded 5.8-acre Maʻalo Road property. Back then, it contracted with Hope Treatment Services, an Oʻahu-based service provider, to oversee the ATHC, which was one of just two providers that applied for the county’s request for proposal.

Just months later, the county severed its ties with Hope Treatment, officials stating the nonprofit hadn’t secured the proper licensing and equipment needed to operate the facility in a timely manner. (Disputing those claims, Hope Treatment has since sued the county for loss of revenue and breach of contract.)

During this time, the eight-bed Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center wasn’t empty, during the pandemic it acted as the county’s quarantine facility, much to the displeasure of those who wanted to see it open for kids.

“Go up there and sit in that spot and feel the healing that will take place with our children and our families because by the time our children get to a facility, our families are broken.”
Jade Waiʻaleʻale Battad

When continued difficulties in finding an appropriate operator persisted, the Kawakami administration proposed a repurposing of the center for the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney’s use. That got even more pushback.

“I do want to offer up my sincerest apologies to the many members of the public that have had to see loved ones struggle through substance abuse, and who have gone through tremendous hardship, waiting for this center to open,” Kawakami said.

It was at this time community members formed the nonprofit Kaua‘i Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing (KATCH), with board members including present and former council members, and leadership from Hawaiʻi Health Systems Corp.

Officials said then that HHSC had the “human capital to support the center” with KATCH, and in June 2021, the county began the process of formally handing over the title of the property. A $1.3 million allocation from the state Legislature within the state’s fiscal-year 2022 budget was even handed down. With threats of litigation from Grove Farm, HHSC backed down.

But these legal discussions don't stop the fact that there continues to be no on-island, in-patient treatment facility of this kind.

Jade Waiʻaleʻale Battad has watched for years while the county’s Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center went unused for its intended purpose.

“Go up there and sit in that spot and feel the healing that will take place with our children and our families because by the time our children get to a facility, our families are broken,” she said.

This summer, Grove Farm finally filed a lawsuit against the county, saying it violated the deed for not getting the center open. Specific language in the deed states that the county would utilize the property “in perpetuity solely for adult and adolescent health care use," arguing that use of a quarantine facility doesn't fit.

The memorandum of understanding also states that should it not be used that way within two years, “the premises shall immediately and without re-entry revert” back to Grove Farm. According to the filing, Grove Farm wants to prevent the county from ceding the land to a third-party entity who would not be subject to the clause.

With the council’s most recent decision, that litigation is likely to cease now, County Attorney Matt Bracken said.

While councilmembers discussed the resolution Wednesday, they expressed concern that taxpayer money went into the facility, and now the county has no real stake in getting it operational. Grove Farm could also simply not get the facility open.

Grove Farm's “sole objective is to get the facility in the right hands as swiftly as possible,” company CEO Warren Haruki said in a statement.

“The mission of a Kaua’i-based residential treatment center is so our youth no longer need to be sent off-island,” he continued. “The proximity of the center to their family, friends, and loved ones should enhance their ability to heal, to learn, and to thrive in a beautiful facility on Maʻalo Road in the Līhu‘e-Hanamā‘ulu area.”

Former mayor Bernard Carvalho is a current sitting councilmember. He’s been championing the facility since it was just an idea, seeking federal, state and local county support and funding for more than a decade.

“There's still going to be issues happening, we still gonna need to seek funding, whatever but today is a day where we set aside everything from the past and move forward,” he said.

Haruki stated that the company is actively seeking partners and funding for the venture.

“It is our kuleana, our responsibility, to give our youth the opportunity to succeed. Grove Farm will work with all parties to fulfill the intended vision of the facility and serve the much-needed adolescents in our community,” Haruki said.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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